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County approves trail plan for new 8,844-acre Lake Whatcom parkland

The County Council has approved a recreational trail plan for 8,844 acres of forest land around Lake Whatcom. The land includes Stewart Mountain, foreground, on the east side of Lake Whatcom.
The County Council has approved a recreational trail plan for 8,844 acres of forest land around Lake Whatcom. The land includes Stewart Mountain, foreground, on the east side of Lake Whatcom. The Bellingham Herald

Building the first 27 miles of proposed trails in new Whatcom County parkland that straddles Lake Whatcom will cost about $2.3 million.

That’s one of the details in the recreational trail plan for the parkland, which was created by the transfer of 8,844 acres of forest land around Lake Whatcom from the state to the county in 2014.

The County Council approved the plan, which will guide park development in the coming years, in October.

The plan proposes 98 miles of trails, which will include an existing 10 miles of county parks trails.

Full buildout will cost an estimated $7.4 million, is expected to take years and will depend on the availability of money and assistance from recreation groups – much like what’s been seen with trail development in parkland in the Chuckanuts, said Michael McFarlane, director for Whatcom County Parks and Recreation.

“It’s a plan, so there will be changes as we go through the permitting process,” McFarlane said. “It’s entirely dependent upon funding and the amount of volunteer help we get to construct it and maintain it as time goes on.”

The trail plan is for what’s now being called Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve and Lake Whatcom Park.

The names are working titles to delineate separate parcels of the transferred acres, which are adjacent to the preserve and park.

One parcel of transferred land is on the slopes of Stewart Mountain on the east side of the lake, referred to as the Lake Whatcom Park side. The other is on Lookout Mountain on the west side.

The goal of the transfer was to balance nonmotorized recreation – hiking, running, mountain biking and horseback riding – and protecting water quality in Lake Whatcom by preventing development.

The lake is the drinking water source for nearly 100,000 residents of Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Also important was protecting wildlife habitat, including for the marbled murrelet, a rare and endangered seabird that has been documented in the area.

The plan hasn’t changed much from the draft the council approved in February.

Details of proposed trails, which would range from easy to difficult, include:

▪ On the west Lookout Mountain Park side, proposals call for 54.3 miles of trails. A higher concentration of mountain bike trails will be developed on this side because of its proximity to Galbraith, and the existing mountain bike network there, as well as to residential development.

A trail link to Squires Lake Park to the south also is proposed, part of the goal of connecting to existing public trails, parks and communities.

This portion could provide regional connections to the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, Lake Whatcom Park trails, and Blanchard and Chuckanut mountains.

▪ On the east Lake Whatcom Park side, there would be 43.6 miles of trails. High priority would be put on linking the Hertz Trail from where it now ends south to meet up with Blue Canyon Road. There also could one day be a trail link to Alger Mountain in the south.

For both parcels, the plan concentrates the highest level of trail development near existing trailhead parking and existing high-disturbance areas such as the Bonneville Power Administration electrical transmission corridor, for example, on the Lake Whatcom Park side.

Additional parking and restrooms also are planned for both sides.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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